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These are undoubtedly difficult times for business leaders as the UK heads into a recession and cost of living crisis. The Chancellor’s recent Autumn Statement was frank about the challenges ahead, and it’s clear that we are entering into an extended period of rising tax burdens as well as the prospect of spending cuts.

At least the Statement has brought a sense of stability compared to the extreme volatility and uncertainty in the wake of September’s ‘mini budget’. But at the same time, customers and staff will be very worried about what the future holds and the extent of the impact on the affordability of their day-to-day living.

This makes it more important than ever that businesses step into the service agenda, showing empathy and support for customers and putting the service experience at the heart of their approach. It also means that support for our front-line staff is crucial – they are often facing the same cost of living pressures as customers. Good communication, honesty, appropriate signposting to support and empathetic and intuitive line management will all be pre-requisites.

Keeping sight of the bigger picture

It is easy for organisations and managers to become so caught up in managing everyday operations that they lose sight of the bigger picture. They slip into a default mode of reacting to events and it becomes almost a merry-go-round of dealing with immediate issues, whilst knowing that the very things that allow us to go forward require timeout and genuine thinking time. This is understandable, and we all recognise the immediate needs such as recruitment and retention which have become pressing concerns, with some contact centres seeing churn rates of 25% or more. With the peak end of year period upon us, ensuring adequate resourcing is an absolute priority.

But this mustn’t subsume leaders’ whole focus. It’s vital to keep a strategic view. If we were honest, when did we really undertake a workforce planning activity that looked at the longer view? What is the organisation’s vision and ambition for 2025? How are the people and service strategies going to be tied to the organisation’s performance goals and growth objectives? Are you clear about what the business stands for and how you will deliver against a clearly defined corporate purpose that addresses the needs of customers, staff, investors and stakeholders?

Be intentional about planning

However loud the daily ‘noise level’ becomes, the leadership team must make room for strategic thinking and planning. It’s important to be really intentional about it. This rigour at the executive level then sets the tone for the management layers down through the business. Often, it’s easier for line managers to let short-term reactive issues dominate their time because they are visible and immediate. But leaders need to demonstrate that there should be an equal awareness of longer-term goals.

Now is a natural time to redouble your focus on this given that the year is nearing its end and 2023 is looming. It’s also a good time because, as challenging as conditions are already, they may only get harder further down the line. The rising personal tax burden will get felt more over time as thresholds stay frozen. Further business-focused measures will be announced next year in the Spring budget.

So, take the initiative now and ringfence time for strategic planning. After all, having a clear long term view and a plan around how to get there builds organisational resilience – and that’s a quality that every business will need as we face into the future. It sounds obvious I know, but how much time this week have you honestly spent on this?

Jo joined The Institute as its CEO in 2009. She has driven membership growth by 150 percent and established the UK Customer Satisfaction Index as the country’s premier indicator of consumer satisfaction, providing organisations with an indicator of the return on their service strategy investment.

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